Following more than a year of scientific review by an independent panel, the Western Australian Government has decided to lift a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for existing onshore gas projects in the state.
As with the long list of studies that preceded it, the Inquiry found that, when properly regulated, the risk to groundwater from the use of fracking is low.
Here’s what the Independent Scientific Panel had to say on the subject:
The risk of contamination of shallow fresh water aquifers by saline groundwater through hydraulically stimulated fractures is low, because the likelihood of fractures propagating and creating pathways which would contaminate overlying aquifers is very low.”
The risk of contamination of shallow fresh water aquifers by saline groundwater through hydrogeological faults is moderate, however where activities are undertaken such that faults are avoided, the risk is considered to be low. This is based on the likelihood that the presence of these permeable faults to propagate and create pathways which could contaminate overlying aquifers is rare.”
The risk of contamination of shallow fresh water aquifers by saline groundwater and chemicals used in hydraulic fracture stimulation from well integrity failure is low. This is based on the likelihood of well failure occurring such that aquifers are interconnected in the study area being determined to be rare.”
If standards of well construction are complied with, the risk of contamination of shallow fresh water aquifers is low.”
The risk of contamination of shallow fresh water aquifers by methane as a result of hydraulic fracture stimulation activities is low. This is based on the available data, with likelihood of methane at depth migrating to upper aquifers assessed as rare.”
Overall, the findings in the Inquiry’s report demonstrate that when it comes to fracking and protecting groundwater sources, the science stacks up – which is why Western Australia’s Premier Mark McGowan made the informed decision to lift the ban for existing projects.
In a statement, Premier McGowan said:
Banning fracking on existing petroleum titles after the scientific inquiry found the risk from fracking is low, would undermine Western Australia’s reputation as a safe place to invest and do business.”
And the evidence doesn’t stop in Western Australia. In fact, many other scientific studies have also concluded that groundwater resources can be protected during onshore drilling and fracking operations.
Dr Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist, told ABC Lateline in 2015 that:
…there is a lot of evidence that fracking is safe.” “That it’s being used widely already in the coal seam gas fields, particularly in Queensland. It’s being used widely across America. The evidence is not there that it’s dangerous. In fact, the evidence is that, if properly regulated, it’s completely safe.”
And similar findings were made during the Northern Territory’s own Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in April 2018. The Summary of the Final Report stated:
…having considered the latest and best-available scientific data from a wide range of sources, and noting the recent and continuing technological improvements in the extraction of onshore shale gas, the conclusion of this Inquiry is that the challenges and risks associated with any onshore shale gas industry in the NT can be appropriately managed.”
Australian studies are only part of a vast body of evidence that hydraulic fracturing does not adversely impact groundwater. In fact, more the 25 scientific, peer-reviewed studies and expert assessments have concluded similarly, including a landmark 2016 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study, which concluded:
Hydraulic fracturing operations are unlikely to generate sufficient pressure to drive fluids into shallow drinking water zones.”
The EPA reached this conclusion even after expanding the definition of fracking to include a wide range of other oilfield activities, demonstrating the safety of the entire development process.
Bottom line: Increasingly around the world, the science repeatedly demonstrates that when properly regulated, fracking poses a low risk to groundwater resources.